Milestone for Irish museums: Irish Museums Survey 2016 launched

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Launch of the Irish Museums Survey 2016 / LAMN 1916 Exhibition. From left: Liam Bradley (Curator, Monaghan County Museum); John Rattigan (Chair, Local Authority Museum Network); Minister Heather Humphreys; Brian Crowley (Chair, Irish Museums Association); Dr Sandra Collins (Director, National Library of Ireland); Dr Emily Mark-FitzGerald (UCD School of Art History & Cultural Policy). Photo by Gary O’Neill.

It’s out! Yesterday more than 100 museum professionals gathered at an event in the National Library of Ireland for the launch of the Irish Museums Survey 2016 by Heather Humphreys TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

This survey is indeed a milestone: it’s the first comprehensive study of the Irish museum sector in a decade. Funded by the Irish Research Council’s ‘Engaging Civic Society’ scheme, it’s the product of a collaboration between the Irish Museums Association and UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy.

I was the Principal Investigator and author of the report (along with the research team Gina O’Kelly, Dr Colleen Thomas, and Fernando Sanchez), and I’m delighted it’s now available as an online publication.

The results are alternately fascinating, encouraging, and worrying. Here are a few highlights:

  • There are approximately 230 museums in Ireland (north and south); 118 participated in the survey (ranging from independent/community museums to national cultural institutions)
  • 6.1 million visitors were welcomed by Irish museums in 2014: on average museums reported 35% international and 61% domestic visitors.
  • The positive effects of the Museum Standards Programme of Ireland (run by the Heritage Council) over the past decade in enhancing museum practice nationwide were widely observed
  • Provision of educational services has increased from 31% in 2005 to 60% of museums in 2016
  • Digital engagement has risen sharply: museums reported growing levels of collection digitisation, and high levels of engagement on the web and on social media: 98% of museums have a website; 78% are on Facebook; and 40% are on Twitter

… however …

  • 46% of museums have experienced budget decline from 2005-15; this contrasts sharply with 2005 data (when only 7.4% reported a decrease).
  • Museums have experienced drastic reductions to the labour force and increasing reliance on volunteers, interns and community employment schemes: 41% indicated they are ‘very dependent’ on voluntary/unpaid labour, and 17% of museums have no paid employees at all. The majority of museums (77%) are staffed by fewer than 10 paid employees.
  • Comments from participants extensively detailed problems with infrastructure and basic facilities, affecting museums across the country. Cutbacks on every aspect of museum provision (education, programming, conservation, security, etc.) indicate the broad and deep impact of budget reductions and hiring freezes.

The report is chock-full of information and analysis, covering all aspects of museum activity. We hope this report will help inform future programming and planning for museums at national and regional levels. This is especially critical for institutions (large and small) which reported serious problems with infrastructure and facilities in a severe state of disrepair.

Our primary recommendations? In a nutshell:

  1. Establish a research unit to enhance quality and regularity of data collection, based at the Irish Museums Association, the Heritage Council, or the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
  2. Improve museums’ data collection practices by developing training opportunities for Irish museums, to better support advocacy efforts.
  3. Prioritise, in future policies and programmes, the primary resource needs as identified by museums: (1) capacity (staff, volunteers, time); (2) funding and fundraising support; (3) buildings and storage.
  4. Enhance support of community and independent museums, including a review of supports and the development of a national strategy concerning the needs of small museums.
  5. Offer additional training and resourcing in the areas of digitisation and the development of digital and online strategies.
  6. More detailed research is needed on museum outreach and education, to be further correlated with policy developments such as the Arts in Education Charter.
  7. Low rates of improvement in disabled access since 2005 should be addressed by museums as a priority.

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(version for web viewing)

(version for printing)

Museum of August Destiny comes to Pearse Museum

Launch of The Museum of August Destiny
Thursday 3 November, 5 pm
Pearse Museum, St Enda’s, Rathfarnham

I’m delighted to share news that the contemporary art exhibition I curated this summer at Lismore Castle Arts – The Museum of August Destiny – will have a second showing at the Pearse Museum, St. Enda’s, Rathfarnham, from 4 November 2016 – 8 January 2017.

Featuring artists Aideen Barry, Mark Clare, Amanda Coogan, Anthony Haughey, Dragana Jurisic, and Sarah Pierce, the six new commissioned works offer reflections on the Irish state and the ‘august destiny’ envisioned by the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.

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The exhibition will be launched on 3 November (5 pm) by Professor Sarah Prescott, Principal, UCD College of Arts and Humanities, and on view from 4 November 2016 – 8 January 2017. Admission is free.

Supported by the UCD Decade of Centenaries programme
Initiated & first displayed by Lismore Castle Arts, Co. Waterford
With thanks to the Pearse Museum, Office of Public Works

On now: The Museum of August Destiny

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Dragana Jurisic, Jessie, 2016

I’m very pleased to share details of an exhibition I’ve curated and just opened at Lismore Castle Arts, at St Carthage Hall, in Lismore Co. Waterford

The Museum of August Destiny (17 July – 4 September) features six artists born or working in Ireland and explores the resonance of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, a century after it was written. The participating artists are Aideen Barry, Mark Clare, Amanda Coogan, Anthony Haughey, Dragana Jurisic and Sarah Pierce.

The exhibition proposes an alternative means of making 1916 again manifest, by creating a ‘capsule’ museum responding to the final line of the 1916 Proclamation:

In this supreme hour the Irish nation must by its valour and discipline and by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worth of the august destiny to which it is called.

The Museum of August Destiny has commissioned each artist to respond to one of six ‘visions’ of Irish destiny set out in the Proclamation: (1) sovereignty and ‘unfettered control of Irish destinies’; (2) religious and civil liberty; (3) equal rights and opportunities for citizens; (4) the pursuit of happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all of its parts; (5) cherishing the children of the nation; and (6) oblivion of the differences ‘which have divided a minority from the majority in the past’.

Housed within museum cases on loan from the Pearse Museum at St. Enda’s, Rathfarnham, the six artworks present individual meditations (utilizing sounds/objects/images) on the realization or retreat from our ‘august destiny’. A seventh case will host rotating contributions from the residents of Lismore and its surrounds: making visible a range of political, personal, conceptual, utopian, critical, and condemnatory responses.

The essay accompanying the exhibition can be downloaded here.

Lismore Castle Arts
General opening: Monday – Sunday, 10.30 – 5.30
St Carthage Hall opening hours: Friday – Sunday, 1-6 pm
Running: 17 July-4 September
Admission to St Carthage Hall is free

A New Irish Ministry for the Arts (Or, Through a Hedge, Backwards)

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upon hearing the cabinet reshuffle news

(*update 11/5/16: thanks to RTE Arena for having me on air yesterday to speak about this: piece begins at 4:00. Please consider signing the petition to reconfigure a new arts ministry started by John O’Brien)

Like many in this country, I’ve been patiently waiting for our warring political factions to hammer out some kind of resolution to the election impasse. Listening to the radio, getting my young kids ready for school in the morning rush, stopping for the occasional eyeroll as the merits of this-or-that coalition is debated… waiting.

Finally on Friday, the new Cabinet was announced. Some familiar faces, a few surprises, and then the biggest shock of all: the newly configured Department of Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts and the Gaeltacht. Cue my disbelief.

In what other European country would such a combination be acceptable, or even logical? Have the arts (and heritage, which seems to have fallen off a cliff) really fallen so low in government estimation?

Call me an optimist: in the triumph of hope over experience, I’ve perpetually believed that as the economy improved, our government might turn again to nurturing the cultural life that has actually sustained us during these last few, depressing years of recession. That it might recognise how, in spite of resources slashed and professional expertise often discredited, folks working in our cultural sector have continued doing what they love and believe in, often at great personal expense (both in terms of morale, and financially). Playwrights and novelists haven’t stopped writing; actors and musicians have persisted in performing; artists continue to create work that makes us think and challenges us to look at the world anew. Museum workers, even in their dwindling numbers, welcome school groups across the country; volunteers keep heritage sites open and welcome visitors with a cup of tea; our national collections and archives continue to paste over the cracks, and keep institutions functioning in the face of disappearing funding, threats to their independence and the hiring moratorium.

What about the near-incessant stream of 1916 centenary events? Who do the government think have been producing the talks, performances, exhibitions, public events that have attracted thousands over the past few months, with many more in planning? I’m of the personal view that the commemorations have been incredibly rich, dramatically expanding public narratives that were previously frozen by polarised political ideologies. We can be proud of our centenary year to date – but this is because of the creatives (artists, archivists, academics, etc) and the willing public who have made it so.

I’m flabbergasted, frankly. Some will say the cabinet reshuffle doesn’t matter: power has, and always will, essentially rest with the senior civil servants who actually run the Department of Arts & Whatever Else You’re Having. But I happen to think it does matter. Do we live in a society that believes in the integrity and value of our cultural life? Why haven’t we been given a government department and minister that signal a central (not peripheral) willingness to cultivate and protect our much-lauded reputation as a small, global, cultural powerhouse? All too often it feels that Ireland’s cultural richness has not emerged because of government support: it’s happened in spite of it.

What does this active disregard feel like on the ground? Let’s just look at one slice of this – Irish museums –as I happen to be finishing writing up the results of the Irish Museums Survey (to be published in the next month). Funded by the Irish Research Council and undertaken by the Irish Museums Association and UCD, it’s the first time in a decade any statistics have been collected on the museum sector (these aren’t officially collected, by the way). The more sophisticated analysis will come later, but here are just a few insights into what eight years of budget cuts have achieved (some from the survey, and others from my own experience):

  • In 2015, 300,000 visited the Natural History Museum of Ireland (ah, the Dead Zoo! Beloved of generations everywhere, and annually in the top ten most visited free attractions in Ireland). It had no dedicated education staff, and only 2 curators (one of whom is the Director).
  • 40% of the budget of the National Museum of Ireland system has been slashed since 2008. Let that figure sink in.
  • Thousands of tickets have already been pre-booked for the (free) exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the National Gallery of Ireland, which opened 5 days ago. Yet a large proportion of the gallery has been closed since 2011: despite government declarations it would reopen in 2015, and then 2016, it’s now slated for spring 2017 (maybe?) Apart from the loss of public access to national collections, this also means we’ve had a talented museum director (as we are lucky to have in Sean Rainbird) compelled to manage a mostly-closed museum.
  • As part of the Museum Survey we asked 100+ museums across the country (small and large; urban and rural) what impact budget changes have made over the past five years. Here is just a small sample of the responses (more to come!):
    • Our heating was removed
    • Reception staff annual leave has to be covered by curatorial staff
    • A reduction in staff numbers from 28 to 5
    • Difficulty in paying electricity and public liability
    • A 70% drop in our programming budget
    • Unable to repair damaged roof and flood damage

Such accounts could be multiplied many times over, if extended to the visual, performing, and literary arts. And yet – on 28 March at the conclusion of RTE’s acclaimed broadcast Centenary, President Michael D Higgins paid tribute to the centrality of Irish culture as inspiring the new State:

From that foundation, that cultural and literary awakening, Irish artists known and appreciated throughout the world have emerged, and continue to emerge. Tonight we celebrate not only our rich cultural heritage, but also its contemporary expression, our new imaginings, and the many creative ways in which we are telling our stories. For ours is a story still in the making.

This year, as we celebrate this important centenary and reflect on what we have achieved, we are committing ourselves to continuing the journey of imagination, committing ourselves to sustain the artistic work that will form the next chapter of our story.

A month later, and we’ve been presented with the new Department of RDRAAG to carry this ‘national story’ forward. Perhaps no acronym has ever been more fitting.

 

Arts news round-up: 19 October 2015

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A few bits and pieces for your Monday…

Last call! We’ve more than 70 signed up for The Creative Museum: Extending Participation Through Collaboration’ this Friday/Saturday at Queen’s University Belfast; a few extra tickets have been released through the link above, and there are some additional seats on the (free!) Dublin-Belfast bus taking folks up & returning on Saturday. It’s going to be a great day — many thanks to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for their sponsorship of this event.

Always love seeing arts organisations venturing into new territory, and the Royal Hibernian Academy’s been leading the way on this one: their Blue Moon Lost Wednesdays events have been fab mixes of music, food and art — and their inaugural Interlude festival this weekend looks promising, with a live music room, club space, cabaret cinema, cocktail club, craft beer bar, vinyl room and pop-up restaurant!

Congratulations to my colleagues Victoria Durrer (QUB) and Kerry McCall (IADT) on the imminent launch of the Cultural Policy Research Observatory Ireland, a new network and resource for Irish academics (north and south) engaged in cultural policy research, across disciplines. Seed funded by the Irish Research Council, its inaugural event (by invitation) is taking place this Thursday, 22 October at QUB on the subject of The Production of Our Contemporary Livelihood. More great things are to come!

The details of Budget 2016 were announced last week; however the rather cheerful press release from the Department was quickly countered with more negative assessments from the National Campaign for the Arts and Theatre Forum. Both correctly highlight that most of the significant new funding allocations are devoted only to impending commemorations: core funding is only being increased by €4.5 million, a very disappointing sum given the substantial cuts to the arts & culture budgets since 2008. The Department has further indicated a ‘boost in funding for the National Cultural Institutions and the Arts Council’, but few details of what this constitutes are yet available (excepting a €2.5 million increase for the AC, but the wording suggests this may be a one-off). There’s no two ways about it: funding for the centenary is eclipsing investment into core arts and cultural funding. This is very problematic, especially for any and all activity falling outside that narrow categorization. I’m feeling a 2016 hangover coming on already…

Applications for the 2016 Government of Ireland postdoctoral scholarships are now being accepted. This is the primary means by which arts & humanities postdoc work is funded at Irish universities; if you’ve a PhD and would like to come speak with us about postdoc opportunities, feel free to get in touch!

Along with colleagues at Maynooth University and the International Network of Irish Famine Studies, I’m co-organising a conference on The Great Famine and its Impacts: Visual and Material Culture (14-16 March). Our call for papers has just been announced; we’ll be producing an edited volume, and have planned several special events in conjunction with the conference, so do consider sending in an abstract if you work in this field…

On 29 October I’ll be participating in the symposium Talking About Perpetrators, a cross-disciplinary event taking place in Dublin Castle and co-organised by College of Arts & Humanities Artist-in-Residence Dominic Thorpe, and Dr Emilie Pine from UCD School of English, Drama & Film. Tickets are very limited, so do book asap if you wish to attend!